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Pretending With The Playboy
By Cathleen Galitz
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Sorry, guys, no can do," Alexander Kent informed his fellow members of the prestigious Texas Cattleman's Club.
His voice lacked any genuine remorse at having to decline the "honor" thrust upon him. Protests arose from every corner of the ultramanly cigar lounge that served as the day's meeting room. Clint Andover, the most recently married among their ranks, succinctly phrased the question on everyone's mind in a warm drawl that belied the steely intent behind the inquiry.
"And just why the hell not?"
Alex studied the fine bone china cup that held his Irish coffee. The club emblem embossed in delicate gold strokes upon the porcelain stood for far more than any outsider could be expected to understand. The facade of their good old boys club was in fact a front for an organization of ex-military men dedicated to saving innocent lives and bringing the guilty to justice. And while their generosity to charities was renowned, it was their covert operations that truly testified to their members' integrity and to the success of their missions.
Alex took his sweet time answering. His gaze swept the room, taking in the exotic animal mounts decorating the walls. He felt a sudden stirring of empathy for the mountain lion trapped for posterity upon a narrow rock jutting out from the opposite wall. Swatting at an imaginary foe, the poor creature's snarl challenged the terrified look in its glassy eyes.
Alex imagined the unfortunate beast had just learned his friends had proposed marrying him off as part of some elaborate plan they had concocted on his behalf.
Overhead a Tiffany chandelier cast a rainbow of prisms upon the club motto hanging from a plaque above the door. The words were carved upon Alex's heart as surely as they were burned into that hallowed piece of wood.
Leadership, Justice and Peace.
It wasn't lack of courage keeping Alex from freely offering himself up as a pawn in the Club's latest mission. They intended to break apart a ring of white-collar criminals engaged in a reprehensible adoption scam. The scam had started coming to light on the fateful day when Natalie Perez stumbled into this proverbial fortress with Travis Whelan's baby - and absolutely no memory whatsoever. Piecing together her recollections had not been easy, or altogether safe, for those who had reached out to help her. And foiling a scheme worth half a million dollars to the perpetrators had proven more perilous than any of them could have imagined at the time.
The fact that Natalie, Travis and their baby were presently out of harm's way, not to mention happily joined together as a bona fide family, wasn't the end of the Cattleman's involvement in this complicated case. Motivated by their pledge to see justice done, the members had seen fit to elect someone to go undercover and conduct a sting operation designed to put an end to the illegal ring for good. Because of his former FBI experience, Alex was the obvious choice for the assignment. Independently wealthy, this single thirty-five-year-old lifetime bachelor had no family or job obligations to prevent him from accepting.
"We're waiting for your answer with bated breath," said Ryan Evans laconically.
Alex gave the former rodeo star a reluctant smile.
"As honored as I am by your faith in me, there's one problem you all seem to have overlooked."
He hesitated. The temptation to crack a joke and charm his way out of this predicament was superceded by his need to be forthright. Alexander Kent could no more lie to the reflection in his own mirror than to the band of brothers who filled this room with the integrity of their own personal character. Taking a deep breath, he removed the invisible mask of indifference that he donned for the rest of the world to see, and prepared himself to be razzed unmercifully.
A rare glimpse of weariness showed itself in his deep green eyes as he made his disclosure.
"In order to play the doting husband in this little scheme of yours, I'm going to need a suitable wife, and the truth is, I'm fresh out of feminine companions who would be willing to act the part - even for as good a cause as this one."
Disbelief and laughter filled the room at the thought of the state's most notorious playboy being unable to cajole any number of women into playing house with him.
"What happened to Glorious Gloria?" someone asked from the back of the room.
"Not speaking to me at the moment," Alex explained in reference to the supermodel who had recently severed ties when he refused to so much as discuss the subject of marriage. "As, I'm afraid, is every other woman in my infamous little black book."
The one that doesn't exist, he silently amended.
His friends' good-natured kidding didn't do anything to ease the loneliness that he secretly dealt with every day as part of his inheritance from a wealthy father who had been taken by any number of rapacious stepmothers. Very early on, those women had taught young Alex how to appreciate the value of bachelorhood. Gloria Vuu was the latest in the long line of women frustrated in an attempt to get him to commit to something beyond what she called his "swinging singles' mind-set." Her dramatic departure had included the breaking of a priceless vase against a wall of his penthouse. Never one to quibble over the price of splitting up, Alex was just grateful she hadn't been a better aim.
"That one wouldn't have worked for our purposes anyway," interjected another friendly voice. "Nobody in their right mind would believe somebody like Gloria was desperate to saddle herself to a pile of dirty diapers."
With his usual aplomb, Ryan Evans quieted the room simply by clearing his throat. "Is that all that's keeping you from accepting this assignment?" he asked, spearing Alex with a searching look.
As if that wasn't enough!
Alex nodded. Just because his bachelor friends were dropping like flies into the honeyed web of matrimony, he hardly thought it fair that they suddenly considered themselves experts on who would make him a suitable wife.
Excerpted from Pretending With The Playboy by Cathleen Galitz Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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